Last week, a federal judge struck down a Trump Administration decision to take wolves off the endangered species list, restoring federal protection of some gray wolves in the country—meaning they can no longer be hunted.
While the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) maintained that wolf populations were no longer threatened, US District Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland, California said in his decision on Feb. 10 that the call to entirely remove the predators from the protective list was based too heavily on wolf populations only in the Rocky Mountains and near the Great Lakes, according to the Capital Press.
More specifically, the FWS said the West Coast wolf population was an extension of the more Eastern wolf populations, a statement White said is an error. “The Service did not adequately consider threats to wolves outside of these core populations. Instead, the Service avoids analyzing these wolves by concluding, with little explanation or analysis, that wolves outside of the core populations are not necessary to the recovery of the species,” White wrote in his decision.
White’s ruling restores federal protections to all wolves in Western and Central Oregon and Washington, as well as California. However, wolves located in Eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho and Montana remain off the endangered list under the 2020 US Fish and Wildlife Service rule removing wolves from the list in 45 states.
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The original delisting of wolves was finalized in November 2020 and led to a controversial wolf hunting season in some states such as Wisconsin—the first state to resume wolf hunting that year—where the season had to be cut short after hunters killed 218 wolves in three days, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The decision to put wolves back on the list is at odds with many ranchers’ wishes, as it prohibits them from killing wolves they believe to be a threat to their livestock. In 2021, organizations such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Forest Resource Council, the American Sheep Industry Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, among others, defended the decision to delist wolves, citing the dangers an unchecked wolf population has on livestock, according to the Farm Bureau.
A lack of sufficient statistics on wolves’ impact on livestock leaves the subject up for much debate. Environmental and conservation groups that challenged the initial ruling, including those such as Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States, celebrated White’s decision to reinstate wolves to the list.
Both the FWS and ranching groups involved in the case could appeal White’s decision.